Sunrise/Whitney-area veterans strive to readjust to civilian life after military missions

In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 2 million members of the United States military have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many troops coming back from Iraq are returning to a very different America than they left, with higher unemployment, higher gas prices, the foreclosure crisis and a number of other financial challenges.

A Jan. 26 job fair at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 7000 Las Vegas Blvd. North, drew current and former military members and family members from as far away as Los Angeles. The event was put together by RecruitMilitary, a veteran-owned firm dedicated to helping veterans and their families shape post-military careers. It puts together career expos and advises on education, civilian careers, new business and franchise ownership, training and more.

“Eighty-eight percent of the population is not invited to our events — this is for military families and spouses,” said John Lundberg, director of events and national accounts at RecruitMilitary. “We’ll hold 62 events this year in 33 different cities. I stay pretty busy, needless to say.”

Lundberg believes that while returning vets are facing an unusually difficult job market, they have a lot to offer employers.

“Somebody who may have joined the military four years ago, they come back now and Las Vegas is not so fruitful,” Lundberg said. “It’s knowing where to go. It’s knowing how their skill sets lined up and what employers are looking for. The biggest challenge they have is being able to articulate how those (military skills) translate.”

Lundberg sees RecruitMilitary’s role as being the conduit between veterans and employers.

“We not only educate the soldiers, we educate the employers,” Lundberg said. “They recognize the value that veterans can bring to the organization. The challenge for them is understanding how the skill sets the veterans had while they were serving lined up with what they were looking for, as well.”

Not all veterans are finding civilian companies to be quite so willing to embrace those skills. Boulder City resident Justin Mozur worked a civilian job for 4½ years following his retirement from the U.S. Air Force. He said he was laid off two years ago and has managed to get three jobs in that time. All of his new employers let him go after 90 days.

“In talking with recruiters, staffing agencies and the unemployment agency, that seems to be the trend,” Mozur said. “Employers are not hiring past 90 days, because they don’t want to pay for benefits because of the economy.”

That sort of thing may be among the reasons several veterans at the event said they were hoping to re-enlist or seek employment with a military contractor.

Air Force Master Sgt. Tonya C. Freeman didn’t attend the recruitment event, but she stands firmly in the camp of veterans who would return to military service, given the chance.

“If they asked me to come back, I’d do it in an instant,” Freeman said.

Freeman grew up as a self-described military brat, but she considers Las Vegas her home. She moved here when her father, also an Air Force master sergeant, retired to Sunrise Manor. She served 24 years in the Air Force, first as an occupational therapy technician, then as a physical therapy technician and finally as a speech therapy technician.

She served in only seven bases, as her specialized training limited her to specific locations. Her final posting was at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where she worked with veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“When I joined up, I only planned to be in for four years,” Freeman said, “to get the GI bill and go back to college. But once I was in, I found I liked everything about the Air Force. Well, I liked everything but the fact we’re at war and some of the casualties I’ve seen and treated.”

Freeman’s retirement ceremony was March 2 , but she isn’t due to leave the service until May. She reached the ceiling for retirement for her rank and had to leave . She planned to stay longer but said the numbers were dropped back from 26 years to 24 due to government downsizing.

“I’ll have served for 24 years and four days,” Freeman said. “I’ve always got to mention the four days. Then I go back to school.”

Freeman intends to enter a university in California, where her son is a sophomore in high school. When they both graduate, she hopes to come back to Las Vegas to teach special education. The school will reinforce what she already has been practicing in her military career and give her a teaching certificate.

Lundberg asserts that even without training that doesn’t translate directly into a civilian career, a background in the military makes for a good employee.

“They were in charge of personnel and millions of dollars worth of equipment, under very strain-filled, arduous conditions, often times with less than desirable resources,” Lundberg said. “You hear it all the time, ‘The troops don’t have enough (equipment),’ or whatever the case may be. But they still got the job done. So that’s what makes them very valuable. They can lead men and women under very difficult conditions. They’ll get the job done.”

Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at or 380-4532.

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